Playing sports can improve children’s fitness, self-esteem, coordination and self-discipline. Unfortunately, playing sports also comes with a risk of injury. Some injuries may be minor while some injuries may be more serious. Fortunately, most sports injuries can be treated effectively and most children who have experienced an injury can return to playing after treatment.
A safe way to treat an injury in the early stages is the R.I.C.E. method. R.I.C.E. is an acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Starting R.I.C.E. immediately can help to relieve pain and keep the area from swelling. When an injury happens, blood rushes to the area bringing nutrients to start the healing, and the body releases chemicals from the area that triggers the process of inflammation, causing swelling. The earlier that R.I.C.E. is started, the better it works.
REST: When an athlete experiences pain during a certain activity or movement, the athlete should STOP the activity to prevent further harm and REST. Many sports injuries are due to “overuse” and the pain is the body’s way of saying “STOP”! For example, if a pitcher has shoulder or elbow pain, the pitcher needs to stop pitching and rest his arm.
ICE: Applying ice to the injured area can help prevent or reduce swelling. Swelling causes more pain and can slow healing. An ice pack, a plastic bag of ice cubes or frozen vegetables wrapped in a thin towel, or t-shirt can be used. If the child is thin and doesn’t have a lot of body fat, the ice application should be on for 10 minutes only and then removed. If the athlete has more body fat, ice application can be used up to 20 minutes. Be careful. Brief numbness can be effective but if the ice is left on too long, then tissue damage can occur. Applying ice to the child’s injury can be repeated 4 to 5 times more each day for the first 72 hours of a sports injury.
COMPRESSION: Compression is wrapping the injured area with an elastic bandage (such as an ace bandage). Compression helps to decrease swelling as well as to provide stability and support. The wrapping technique should begin at the farthest point away from the injury, then in the direction towards the heart. For example, if the ankle is injured, start applying the bandage at the toes and wrap towards the mid-calf. Take care not to wrap the injured area too tightly. Complaints of tingling, numbness, throbbing, more pain, swelling, and coolness below the wrapped injury are signs that the compression is too tight and needs to be loosened. The compression should be removed at night for sleeping.
ELEVATION: Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart can be effective in decreasing any swelling. Keeping the injured part elevated during sleep at night helps keep swelling down as well.
All 4 parts of R.I.C.E. treatment can be done together. If there is still pain when using the injured part after 2 to 3 days, check in with your child’s primary healthcare provider.